La Salle Study Centre Changjiao
March 2009 Newsletter
Greetings from La Salle Study Centre, Changjiao, China.
I returned to Changjiao as planned on 8th January intending to kick off our Winter English Reading Programme on 12th January. Well, since then, I witnessed the passing on of the Year of the Rat and welcomed the Year of the Ox. I guess people all over the world would rather welcome a running bull but sad to say thus far it is the slow moving working ox.
To begin with, for reasons that bewildered me, the last semester was extended for another week. Normally, there are only 20 weeks per semester. I rushed back to Changjiao only to find that schools were still in session. So, I had to postpone our winter programme and started a week later, on 19th January. It ran for 10 consecutive days. That meant that our programme ended just two days before Chinese New Year.
I did not plan to take in new students yet in the end we ended up allowing 16 new students who had lesson from friends or relatives to join in the classes. As usual we divided the 286 students into 4 classes. I had four students staying in at LSSC throughout the two weeks. Three of them were primary 6 students and one a student who completed high school in 2008 and decided to study English full time at LSSC, Her name is Nancy Liao.
The three primary 6 students were in charge of attendance and helped me to keep LSSC tidy and clean and ready for lessons each day. Nancy is our first full time assistant teacher. She is able to teach all the basic lessons. Her participation relieved me of almost half my teaching burden for the first 3 classes. I teach full time for the 4th class as they are mainly my senior students.
With Nancy standing in for me, I found that I had more time to interact with some parents who were waiting for their children. I had interesting feedback from them and I also had the opportunity to impress on them that they as parents have an important role to play. Unless they make sure that their children revise and read for at least two hours at home, all the efforts we put in to teach them at LSSC will not significantly improve their English reading ability. Now we do not close the main door anymore. Parents and students of other classes are allowed to follow the lessons. They must sit quietly in the adjacent lower hall.
Last year, I requested a cousin of mine to keep a flock of geese for me. For the Spring Festival (Chinese New Year 2009) every family in Baijiang was given a goose on 28th January, which was the 27th day of the lunar month. Each goose was numbered and a member from each family came along to draw a number. It was a fitting festive start to celebrate the Spring Festival. In the midst of much human laughter and cacophony of goose honking a total of 35 geese were drawn and taken away. It also signaled the start of lunch and dinner invitations for me which lasted a total of 18 days. For many of the villagers especially the children, it was the first time that they ate goose meat. Most of the families kept the goose alive till they turn to invite me over for a meal.
One unexpected but encouraging outcome of the gift of a goose was that most of the time when I go to a home for lunch or dinner, they had other guests too as it needed more than a normal size family of 4 to 6 to eat a goose. It sort of indirectly encouraged families to share a meal together during the festive season. Well, it was hard on me as I had to eat goose meat for days!
As usual, I gave an “angpow” to each elderly villager in Baijiang. I guess I made a good decision when I first gave CNY angpows to all who are older than I am. It was 15 angpows in 2005. This year it was down to 10. I am slowly moving up the seniority ladder!
Another pleasant unexpected development was that I received bottles of wine and quite a few angpows from my senior students who are already working. Some who will graduate in September 2009 also gave me angpows as they are on work attachments and are earning some allowances. This is a good sign. It will be my dream comes true if one day LSSC Changjiao will be funded and managed by LSSC alumnus
Just before CNY I was dismayed when a villager took me to see a family of two, an old man (70+) and his son (30+) who lived at the fringe of Baijiang, along the riverbank. All these years I was not aware that they live there. I had seen the broken down shack but all the while thought it was an abandoned building as it had no doors. Even our average village pig stiles are in better condition. They have no electricity and water was from the polluted river. Anyway, we helped them to celebrate CNY in a special way. The family who invited me for the family re-union dinner also invited the father and son. I led our Baijiang drum troupe all the way through a hastily opened path to play for them. A goose was also delivered to them for CNY.
Their plight came to my attention when I was informed that they were denied right of passage by the adjacent village. For many in my own village, it was the first time they visited him when we went there to play drums on CNY morning. They were also deeply moved. I am now working with some villagers to cement pave a road to them through our village and to have electricity connected for them.
The Spring Festival came and went by fast. Soon it was back to school for the students on 16th February. On 20th Feb I joined our secretary and two members of the village committee to attend a meeting of the Liao Clan in Guangzhou. We stayed there for 5 days, meeting and visiting clan members in Guangzhou, Forshan and Dongguan and to raise funds for two village projects this year, namely, the construction of the village hall and a major drinking water supply system.
On 28th February, LSSC reopened for weekend classes. Although there was pressure for many quarters to register new students, we steadfastly refused. We keep the same register as for the Winter programme. Three primary teachers decided to join the weekend classes in order that their children can sit in to attend lessons. A sort of back door entry you may say but it did forced those teachers to take responsibility to ensure that their children can catch up.
Three other teachers of a same school from another town decided form a study group and asked for Friday and Saturday nights lessons. So it looks like there is a bit of progress in the area of teacher training. Sad to say though, the local education department has not taken up my offer to train English teachers for them.
On another front, the local Sisters who asked to study with me, kept calling me to arrange to stay-in and study but inevitably cancelled it at the last minute. However, Fr. Bai from the parish in Wufa, arrived on 28th Feb and studied with us till 10th March. He is originally from Inner Mongolia, studied in Beijing and is now attached to the diocese of Meizhou. Fr. Bai worked very hard in the 10 days he was with us studying at least 8 hours daily. Nancy and I had a tough time in the beginning as his tongue seemed to be stuck in his throat. Somehow, like many northerners I have met so far, many of his words have an extra sound. I must give him credit for his persistence in trying to annunciate our basic pinphonic sounds. I must say he was exhausted at the end of the day and so was I. I am thankful that my students gave me Chinese White Wine for CNY. Fr. Bai, being a northerner is a good drinker. We both enjoyed the wine at the end of the day – it refreshed him and soothed my nerves!
Our kindergarten is slowly taking shape. Nancy is now teaching the children English three times a week. I have a graduate student from Malaysia coming for 3 months at the end of March to assist us. So, it is full steam ahead for the present on the teaching front. I have begun organizing for this Summer 2009. We begin on 20th July and ends on 14th August. Any volunteers?
Please keep us in your prayers. Like the ox, we are taking our progress one slow step at a time. Our mission in Changjiao is not a destination. It is a journey of many short steady steps.
As always with love from
All good things must
come to an end...